Former New York City Ballet principal dancer and Dance Theatre of Harlem founder Arthur Mitchell passed away yesterday in a Manhattan hospital. He was 84 years old. A groundbreaking luminary in the dance world, Mitchell was known for his grace, charisma, leadership and tenacity both on and off the stage.
Two roles were created on him by George Balanchine during his time at New York City Ballet: The central pas de deux in Agon (1957) and Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1962.) In 1969 he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with friend and mentor Karel Shook. His mission was to change the perception that black dancers don’t belong in ballet. The company, currently under the direction of Virginia Johnson, continues to carry out that mission and will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.
Arthur Mitchell’s contributions to the dance world are immeasurable. His honors include the 1971 Capezio Award, the 1975 Dance Magazine Award and, in 1993, a Kennedy Center Honor and a Handel Medallion from New York City.
His artistry and barrier-breaking career continue to inspire generations of dancers and the legacy of his work will live on.